September 19, 2021
While much of the controversy surrounding the construction of the 1,224 km Nord Stream 2 pipeline has revolved around geopolitical concerns, its environmental implications have been at best underestimated and at worst explicitly ignored.
Owned by the famous Russian energy company Gazprom, Nord Stream 2 will transport natural gas from Russia to Germany via the Baltic Sea, alongside the existing Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline corresponding to its export capacity. Over the past decade, it has been one of the most controversial projects internationally approved by the German state: the United States has implacably opposed its construction across administrations, fearing an increased dependence of the EU on Russian energy sources. However, the environmental impact of the project was largely lost in the geopolitical melee.
Since the pipeline has already been built (he finished construction at the beginning of September), there is no need to rehash the habitat disturbance that the development of the pipeline has caused to the fragile marine ecosystems of the Baltic Sea. However, what remains at stake from a climate point of view is the role that this pipeline will play in the German – and generally European – transition to clean energy.
Nord Stream 2 will double the EU’s natural gas imports from Russia, increasing Nord Stream’s annual delivery capacity from 55 billion to 110 billion cubic meters. These figures are quite unfathomable in themselves: to put them in perspective, 55 billion cubic meters are enough to supply Sweden with natural gas for 55 years (according to its consumption level in 2020).
Meanwhile, the German state has set itself the goal of becoming climate neutral by 2045 – an objective which will require no longer to depend on nuclear and coal energy sources (set for 2022 and 2038, respectively). The fact that the German state is in the process of finalizing its approval for another fossil gas pipeline suggests some ambiguity about its intentions to follow through on its environmental commitments.
Although the proponents argued that natural gas should be considered a transitional energy source needed to pivot to a clean energy future, the lead energy expert at the German Institute for Economic Research described Nord Stream 2 as “unnecessary” and “commercially ineffective”.
Although natural gas production emits less carbon than other fossil fuels like coal, Nord Stream 2 is still a step in the wrong direction: the pipeline is expected to emit at least 100 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually (not counting the environmental damage associated with methane), which probably puts Germany emission reduction targets out of reach.
Construction of the pipeline is complete – that’s clear – however, there are still a few hurdles to overcome before natural gas begins to flow through its metal veins: EU energy regulations and German certification.
Gazprom is appealing a recent court ruling that subjects the company to EU regulations regarding the separation of ownership between producers, carriers and distributors of natural gas. While this question will be settled by the courts, the question of whether Germany certify Nord Stream 2 will probably be settled at the ballot box in the German federal elections on September 26.
While Angela Merkel of the CDU defended the project during her chancellery, the German Greens have committed to shutting down the pipeline if he comes to power.
Image by Robson machado